Familiar Faces Starting Off Slow in River Falls

Looking around at Chiefs' training camp, fans see many familiar faces. Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzales, Will Shields, Willie Roaf, Tony Richardson, Jason Dunn and Eddie Kennison just to name a few. The only difference between this training camp and previous years is when fans see some of the Chiefs' key offensive players; they are standing on the sideline watching practice instead of participating.

Looking around at Chiefs' training camp, fans see many familiar faces. Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzales, Will Shields, Willie Roaf, Tony Richardson, Jason Dunn and Eddie Kennison just to name a few. The only difference between this training camp and previous years is when fans see some of the Chiefs' key offensive players; they are standing on the sideline watching practice instead of participating.

Fans are probably wondering why many of the Chiefs' most important players are not on the field a lot early in training camp. The most obvious answer is age. The Chiefs' starting lineup is one of the oldest in the NFL. It's no secret that Dick Vermeil is approaching the end of his coaching career and the Chiefs feel they have the team to make a Super Bowl run right now. Trent Green echoed those sentiments by saying, "This group as a whole, it may be our last year together because some of these guys may retire. There definitely is a sense of urgency. No one talks about it but I think it's clear that we are going to make as serious a run as we can this year."

With Holmes, Gonzales, Green, Shields, Roaf, Richardson, Kennison and Dunn all over 30-years-old, Vermeil wants to pace his veterans. There is no need to run them ragged in late July. He would rather have them fresh for practices later in camp and during the season. According to Green, "They are trying to take care of some of the veteran guys. Keep them fresh. As camp moves along we will get more and more reps." This is the same strategy the Dallas Cowboys used the year they won their third Super Bowl when some of their players were getting a little older.

Another reason the Chiefs are being cautious with some of their key veterans is that a lot of them are coming back from injuries. Holmes, Roaf, and Gonzales all appear to be 100% but that can't be said for Shields who is in Kansas City seeing a doctor for his sore back. But because of the age of the rest of the older veterans, the team doesn't want to rush any of them back to soon. This is a smart move by the Chiefs, especially in regards to Roaf and Shields; especially until his back heals. Everyone is focused on Holmes' knee but the health of the two offensive linemen is just as important to the success of the offense. Actually, with Larry Johnson in the mix, the Chiefs would probably be in better shape if Holmes went down with an injury instead of Shields or Roaf. There is no way the Chiefs could replace what Roaf and Shields means to the team if either of the perennial Pro Bowlers missed any significant time.

The one major benefit of these players not seeing a lot of practice time right now is that their backups get valuable experience working with the first team offense. Because so many of the Chiefs' offensive stars are getting a little long in the tooth, the odds that some of them miss time due to injury increases. By getting work with the first team early in training camp, younger players are getting a chance to show their stuff in case they are needed at some point this season. Warpaint Illustrated's Mike Nugent has been reporting that Larry Johnson looks tremendous so far in camp working with the first team offense. Johnson has looked so good that he may get more playing time this season than some people are predicting.

Green commented on the young running back by saying, "I think it's a situation where it's clear that Priest is going to be the starter. He has battled injuries the last two years so I think being able to keep him healthy, a lot of that depends on Larry because they will be able to rotate the two of them to take some pressure off of Priest. As Larry develops and understands the run game better, understands the passing game better, he will be able to take some of that pressure off of Priest." It will be interesting to see how the team uses the two running backs during the season.

The Chiefs received some bad news about another player who was seeing a lot of time with the first team offense. The team found out late Sunday that Freddie Mitchell, who is battling Samie Parker for a starting job, is going to miss 3-4 weeks with a torn meniscus in his knee that will require surgery. This is terrible news for the Chiefs. Mitchell had been impressive so far in training camp and he really seemed to be making the most of his opportunity to start over with the Chiefs. Missing the next month is going to put Mitchell behind the learning curve. Hopefully for the Chiefs, Mitchell can come back fully recovered from surgery and contribute this season as a slot receiver. Either way, this weakens an already thin receiving core for Kansas City.

Other players getting extra playing time with the veterans sitting out are Kris Wilson, Todd Collins, Jonathan Smith, Sam Gado and Matt Miller. As camp moves forward, a lot of these guys will get fewer reps so the more playing time they get in late July, the better off the team will be down the road.

When you look at the Chiefs' starting lineup, especially on offense, they can match up with any team in the league. The NFL season, however, is a long one. Injuries and other unforeseen things happen throughout the year and second and third string players need to be ready to step in and play. Coaches have to look at the makeup of their team and Vermeil and company are doing a wise thing by not pushing the older veterans right now.

The fans that travel to River Falls may not be too happy about not seeing the Chiefs' stars but taking a cautious approach now, so the older players are fresh during the season, will benefit the team in the long run. For the Chiefs, they are hoping the long run ends sometime in early February with a Super Bowl championship.

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